Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become ‘My Hawai‘i.’” — Colin Sewake
’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS IN NAGAHAMA, YOMITAN
Every year, I look forward to celebrating Christmas with family and friends and enjoying a big meal of turkey and gravy, ham, potato salad and lots of other dishes. I like it when there’s more food than table space and people. Because of these holiday gatherings, I used to wonder why Japanese people line up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken store to buy a bucket of fried chicken for their Christmas dinner. And why KFC? Read all about it at theculturetrip.com.
My wife Keiko and our two children, Mizuki and Aki, usually enjoy a nice buffet dinner at a resort hotel. This year, however, Mizuki’s classes at Yamaguchi University ran until Dec. 26, so we decided to stay home. I jokingly asked Keiko what she thought of buying a bucket of KFC chicken for our Christmas dinner, thinking she would want to eat something else. Much to my surprise she went along with my idea and even suggested that we get our fried chicken from the MaxValu grocery store.
While out running errands on Christmas Eve, we stopped at MaxValu in the Aeon Mall in Chatan and picked up a small tray that included four pieces of fried chicken, three halved sausages and seven potato wedges for ¥754 ($6.90). We made our own vegetable salad at home and that was our Christmas dinner. I chuckled to myself that I was eating a “traditional” Japanese dinner for Christmas that was so different from the high-grade steaks I had bought and cooked just the night before.
That’s how we celebrated Christmas 2019. Regardless of how you celebrated your Christmas, I hope it was a joyous one.
“II SÖGWACHI DEEBIRU!” FROM OKINAWA
Happy New Year! I hope the first few hours of my 2020 aren’t an indication of how the rest of the year will unfold.
I woke up and went downstairs while Keiko slept in. Our dog Hana was curled up at the foot of the bed. As I turned the corner, I noticed that the burnable trash was scattered all over the floor. That’s when I realized that I had forgotten to put the bag in the bathroom so that Hana couldn’t get to it. Sometime during the night, she had come downstairs and made her mischief in the kitchen and dining area. She must’ve known that Keiko-Mama would be upset because she came downstairs a few minutes later, jumped up into my lap and fell sleep. It was the first time she had done that since we adopted her from a rescue shelter nearly five years ago. I debated whether to leave the mess for Keiko to see, but decided to clean it up.
Keiko got up a short time later. Hana got her scoldings and was sent outside, where we feed her breakfast every morning. Keiko went out to get the newspaper and New Year’s nengajo postcards from the mailbox. In Japan, nengajo are exchanged between family and friends, just as Christmas cards are exchanged in the United States. One difference is that delivery of nengajo is guaranteed on Jan. 1, as long as they are mailed by about Dec. 25.
Preprinted cards with New Year’s symbols such as mochi, tangerines, oranges and the zodiac animal are commonly used. Some people choose to make their own nengajo using pictures taken during family trips or significant events, such as school entry or graduation. We decided to make our own nengajo with a family picture that was taken last spring during our trip to Taiwan. Sometimes, people we met during the year that weren’t on our mailing list from the previous year will send us a nengajo. In that case, we will buy a preprinted nengajo from a bookstore or convenience store and mail it immediately to return the New Year’s greetings.
Besides checking on who sent us cards, Keiko also checks some preprinted numbers on the postcard against a listing in the newspaper. The post office raffles cash or gifts from various prefectures and even large appliances like refrigerators and washing machines. This year, tickets to the Tökyö Olympics were added to the prize list. Some stores copied the tradition and offered discounts based on the same preprinted numbers. We totaled 20 percent in potential discounts at San-A.
Mizuki woke up just after Keiko and began helping her make inarizushi (cone sushi) for the evening’s family gathering. They stuffed 24 aburage shells. Keiko also made some jello and fruit cocktail for dessert.
At lunchtime, they left for Keiko’s oldest brother’s house in Awase in Okinawa-Shi. Early in our married life, we would drive to Shuri during Obon and Oshögatsu (New Year’s) to visit five or six relatives with a family butsudan (Buddhist altar) in their home. Most of those uncles and aunties have passed on, so we only visit Keiko’s mom’s younger brother. He, too, was born in Peru. When they were barely in their teens, the two of them immigrated to Okinawa. Keiko’s dad died in 2010, so the family butsudan is now at Keiko’s oldest brother’s house. Some relatives visit during Obon and Oshögatsu, bringing customary oseibo gifts such as beer, rice, canned foods and snacks.
Later that afternoon, Aki and I drove to Kurazushi in Chatan to pick up a tray of sushi that cost ¥2,700 ($24.85) and then continued on to Awase. Keiko’s other brother and his family arrived later with a basket of homemade tempura. They also brought Keiko’s mom from her care home to spend a few hours with the family. We feasted on sushi, assorted tempura, konbu (wrapped seaweed), potato salad and taa’nmu (steamed taro) while talking story and the grandchildren watched the New Year’s television specials.
Our New Year’s celebration continued into the second day of 2020. I joined Keiko and Mizuki on their visit to Keiko’s mom at her elderly care home in Yogi in Okinawa City and helped to feed her lunch. Keiko usually visits Obaa-chan on weekends, but she decided to use her time off from work to spend extra time with her mother. It was also a good chance for Mizuki to visit with Obaa-chan before returning to Yamaguchi on Jan. 4.
After leaving Obaa-chan, we drove to the Rycom Aeon Mall in Kitanakagusuku for lunch and shopping. We stopped first at Baqet Restaurant and used a coupon that Keiko had saved. Baqet is a Japan chain restaurant that serves chicken, beef and pasta dishes. We especially like their all-you-can eat breads. After ordering my usual mustard sauce chicken and consuming numerous sugar rolls, cheesesticks, yomogi (mugwort) rolls, croissants and a variety of other breads, I tagged along with Keiko and Mizuki as they checked out the New Year’s sales.
Keiko used a half off discount on Skecher shoes and paid only ¥4,125 ($38.15), including the 10 percent consumption tax (up from 8 percent since last October).
We usually look for fukubukuro grab bags that are filled with items and sold for about a third to a half off of the regular price. Instead of buying a fukubukuro filled with clothes, Mizuki found a store that offering half off when you buy three or more items. She chose a purple and a blue pair of outerwear along with shoes that totaled about ¥15,000 ($138.65).
I was the big spender of the day with my ¥280 ($2.60) piece of ichigo daifuku (mochi with strawberry and sweet beans). The strawberry was the Amao type from Fukuoka, and it was super sweet.
Jan. 3 was the last of the New Year’s holidays. The Japanese Government is off every year from Dec. 29 until Jan. 3. Keiko works on-base in support of the U.S. military, so she observes the same holidays. Most large Japanese companies observe similar off dates. Since Jan. 3 fell on a Friday, most people returned to work on Monday, Jan. 6.
Here’s wishing you all a happy and healthy 2020!
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to serve his U.S. Air Force ROTC commission. There, he met and married his wife, Keiko, and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and the Air Force Reserves. He and Keiko have two children and live in Yomitan.